Knoxville’s hometown hero Nikki Giovanni has a treat awaiting her fans.
The American poet, writer, and activist has released three of her albums from the 1970s on vinyl for the first time, on the Modern Harmonic record label: “Truth Is On Its Way” (1971), “Like a Ripple on a Pond” (1973), and “The Way I Feel” (1975).
On the albums, Giovanni blends her own powerful poetry with funk and soul music performed by the New York Community Choir.
Giovanni told Knox News she’s thrilled about the release, citing her love of gospel as the inspiration for the releases originally recorded in the 1970s.
Growing up in the Baptist church, she says the rhythmic nature of the music was something she always looked forward to hearing.
“I loved the spirituals and a good choir. There was this one song, ‘Peace Be Still’ by Rev. James Cleveland, that I just loved, and I thought that my poem ‘The Great Pax Whitey’ went right along with it. I thought it would be great to be able to do a performance.”
Giovanni said she turned to her good friend, famed producer Ellis Haizlip, best known as the creator, producer and host of the television variety show, “SOUL.”
“Ellis introduced me to Bennie Diggs and we made an arrangement to meet with the New York Community Choir in Harlem and we all just clicked right away.”
Cissy Houston, the mother of the late vocal legend Whitney Houston, sang background vocals on the record.
“A lot of people don’t know that Cissy was a part of that. But it was an amazing time. We recorded it in one take, just like a live recording,” said Giovanni.
Each album is available on CD and vinyl as is the first LP reissue in a half-century of the “Truth Is On Its Way.” The first-ever LP reissues of “Like A Ripple on a Pond” and “The Way I Feel” will follow on Dec. 10.
1971, “Truth Is On Its Way”
Out of the box and 50 years later, this album remains a powerful listen. Weaving Giovanni’s street-soul poetry with the traditional black gospel of the New York Community Choir under the direction of Bennie Diggs, the album was a hit when released, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard R&B album charts. The 50th anniversary reissue features striking new artwork with photographs from the Jack Robinson Photo Archive and new liner notes by Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother and a member of the group Irreversible Entanglements).
1973, “Like a Ripple on a Pond”
On the heels of the success of “The Truth Is on Its Way,” the second outing with the New York Community Choir and arranger/producer Bennie Diggs was “Like a Ripple on a Pond,” released in 1973. Relating experiences both personal and of her people, the album centers Giovanni’s vocals on sections that allow the choir to let loose and is considered timeless by some music aficionados.
1975, “The Way I Feel”
Giovanni switched gears on “The Way I Feel,” which features funky arrangements by the legendary Arif Mardin, one of Aretha Franklin’s producers.
Black Arts Movement
After graduating with honors in 1967 from Fisk University in Nashville, Giovanni moved to Cincinnati and established the city’s first Black Arts Festival. Giovanni also began writing the poems that are included in her first self-published volume, “Black Feeling, Black Talk” (1968).
Giovanni established herself as a leading poet by the mid-1970s. She won a number of awards and during the 1980s she continued to publish and spent much of her time touring and appearing at speaking engagements.
Today she is a tenured professor at Virginia Tech University and has never stopped writing. Over the course of her 53-year career, Giovanni has written 12 children’s books and eight nonfiction books, and she has released 10 spoken-word albums.
‘America needed something’
Giovanni remembers the period in history that inspired her words on her latest re-releases.
Jay Millar remastered the albums, adding a bit of new rhythm and a sharper sound. Fifty years later and Giovanni said she’s pleased with the project.
“Living through the 1960s was a volatile period. There was a lot going on then. America needed something, and there’s nothing as comforting as the spirituals and gospel music,” said Giovanni.
“I hope fans will enjoy this. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
When asked how music makes her feel, she says it can take you to different places.
“Whether it’s James Cleveland or Billie Holiday, no matter what you turn on, it takes you back. There’s not much else that can take you back 50 years like the music can.”